Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 14 May 2023. © Richard Kemp
When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Western governments, international organizations, media and human rights groups quite rightly rallied round without hesitation, recognising the need to give unreserved moral support to a nation defending itself from violent attack.
We see a very different picture today as Israel is assaulted by aggressors in Gaza, to all intents and purposes a foreign country.
There is some commonality between the two conflicts, although they are on an altogether different scale. Russia and Gaza’s Islamic Jihad both believe the countries they are attacking are illegitimate, have no right to exist and need to be destroyed in their current forms by violence. Neither Ukraine nor Israel has any territorial ambitions or aggressive intent against their attackers — both Ukraine and Israel are fighting purely defensive wars to protect their civilian populations.
There is another common factor. Islamic Jihad in Gaza is an Iranian proxy terrorist group, funded and directed from Tehran. Iran’s hand is behind this conflict and the ayatollahs have pressured Hamas terrorist leaders to join Islamic Jihad’s assault on Israel while doing all they can to prevent a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Iran’s role in Ukraine is not as significant, but we should not forget that it has supplied Russia with explosive drones to fire at Ukrainian civilians.
I do not recall any Western government or international body suggesting moral equivalence between the aggressor and the defender in the Ukraine war, but that is exactly what we have seen repeatedly in this and previous conflicts between Israel and Gaza, with the UN Secretary General calling on ‘both sides’ to exercise restraint.
Unlike the immediate condemnation of Russian violence, we have seen only silence in the US and Europe since Islamic Jihad’s rockets began to fall on Israel. The best we have heard from the White House is that ‘Israel has the right to protect itself’, a statement of the blindingly obvious. None of this is good enough when what is needed is the strongest support for Israel and the most blunt condemnation of Islamic Jihad, along the lines we see over the Ukraine war.
The usual media suspects, such as the BBC and CNN, both cheerleaders for Ukraine’s defensive operations, have predictably been doing their best to slant their coverage against Israel. BBC commentary went as far as to imply that the killing of Gaza civilians is a deliberate policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government while a CNN interviewer claimed that Israel deliberately targeted civilians. In Israel Haaretz published an article branding the IDF’s operation as ‘patently illegal’ and accused its soldiers of war crimes.
As we can see from the Western approach to Ukraine as well as wars everywhere, no other country that is unlawfully attacked by a foreign power is portrayed as the aggressor or at best on a par with the attacker. Yet in this conflict, the differences between the two sides could not be more stark. The IDF takes the greatest possible care to defend its civilians while avoiding unnecessary casualties among civilians in enemy territory, frequently aborting attacks when there is the risk of killing innocent people, and using attack profiles designed to minimise collateral damage even when targeting occupied apartment blocks.
Gaza terrorist leaders, on the other hand, make sure their wives and children are nearby and ready to die whenever there is the risk of attack against them. They deliberately position their weapons stores, missile launch sites and fighters among the civilian population, including in schools, hospitals and occupied residential buildings. The IDF will frequently warn civilians to get out of the area when preparing an attack. Understanding how this undermines their policy of causing maximum casualties on their own civilians in order to achieve international condemnation of Israel, terrorists in Gaza have warned their citizens that anyone who complies will be punished.
In such circumstances it is impossible for the IDF to do the vital work of destroying offensive weapons aimed against their own population and eliminating the terrorist commanders who direct them without inflicting some civilian casualties. Despite the misguided or malign commentary of some journalists, politicians, academics and human rights groups, such collateral damage is not illegal or a war crime, provided all possible measures are taken to avoid it. That is exactly what the IDF does in every engagement, to the extent that several Western generals have admitted that their own forces would be unable to achieve anything like the same standards in protecting civilian life.
In the last five days, more than 1,234 rockets have been fired from Gaza, 976 of which have crossed into Israel – a country roughly the size of Victoria Island — with the remainder falling short into Gaza itself. The nearest comparable bombardment against Western countries was in 1944, when the Germans fired rockets at Britain with a maximum rate of 100 per day. Britain responded with a bombing campaign of devastating force in which many civilians were unavoidably killed. The question Western commentators so eager to condemn Israel should ask themselves is: how many rockets fired into their own countries would be tolerated? The Ukraine war has focused European governments’ minds on this issue and their current planning includes not just improving missile defences but also offensive capabilities to strike at the enemy in his own territory, just as Israel is forced to do today.